Mickey McDaniel burst to his feet.
An urgent time out call, a pop. Another escape, another trip to the District 1-AAAA girls basketball championship game.
No pain, no gain wasn't supposed to be like this.
The Spring-Ford girls basketball team's first-year head coach suffered a torn left Achilles in the heat of the moment in Wednesday's thrilling win over Mt. St. Joseph. Crutches would serve as his support as the Rams took on North Penn Friday night in their third consecutive trip to the district final — the first two occasions victorious ones.
This time, a different kind of pain.
North Penn caught fire, led by lightning rod Vicky Tumasz's 27 points, to send Spring-Ford to an unfamiliar defeat in the district title game, 63-51, at Villanova University.
Star guard Sammy Stipa and the rest of the Rams' senior class has known little else at Villanova but celebration.
"It's definitely really hard, especially for the seniors it's our last year, last (district) game that we lost,' Stipa said. "It's the hardest thing to do in any sport to win three championships in a row. Everyone's out to get you.'
Just reaching three straight district championship games isn't a path forged with ease.
"Our girls make goals every year and you can say this is your goal but the journey is the challenge,' McDaniel said, seated on a folding chair outside the locker room. "There's no guarantees you're going to be in the league championship, the district championship or in the state championship. You really do have to take it one game at a time and the girls have done it.'
Any thoughts McDaniel might not be on the sideline were misguided.
"I'm hurting,' he said following the game. "You lose sight of what you're doing and it was burning during the game.'
From his vantage point, pain isn't a feeling saved for him.
"We've had some kids all year long fighting through some tough times,' McDaniel said. "A kid like Stipa who maybe isn't even 75-percent all year and she's sick on top of it .... You've got to be here, too. Those kids give you everything they've got. What she's given us this year with where she's at health-wise, she's just done a fantastic job.'
An all-state first team selection a year ago after leading Spring-Ford to the PIAA championship, Stipa followed that up in the fall by being an integral piece of the Rams girls soccer team's run to the PIAA final. The back-to-back super-sized seasons and the many miles that come with it tell a tale. The heavy brace on her left knee tell a bit more. Yet Stipa still managed to score a team-high 19 points.
"It's been a challenge,' she said of playing through injury.
Against North Penn, the real pain was the Maidens' shooting touch, namely of Tumasz and Sam Carangi (11 points), who each hit three 3-pointers.
On a night where the shots weren't falling — Spring-Ford took 25 more shots than North Penn but had only two more makes to show for it (19-for-64 compared to 17-for-39), the Rams' trademark defense kept them in the neighborhood. The willing grittiness of Maggie Locke (12 points, eight rebounds) and Shelby Mueller (13 points, 11 rebounds) were contributing factors. But after getting as close as 55-49 with just over a minute to play, a fourth straight crazy comeback wasn't to be.
"We struggled,' Stipa said. "We fought back and I'm proud of the team that we got this far; we fought really hard, it just didn't happen.'
"Our girls will have the same goals (in the future),' McDaniel said. "Just because we lost doesn't mean we say we can't get back here again. It'll be another battle. It's a challenge for any team to get back.'
Now, with another shot in the PIAA playoffs awaiting, Spring-Ford can turn its focus to a new journey.
"This day has ended, we're going in (Saturday) to shoot around for an hour ... One reason we're going in is to get some of this out of us, what's hurting right now. Let's get back on the court, have some fun and move forward,' McDaniel said.
Along with the requisite bumps, bruises of a long season, a new scar may exist.
"(North Penn) had tremendous fight tonight and they won the game,' McDaniel said. "They were the better team tonight.'
As painful as it is to admit.